How Art Is Scientifically Authenticated

Art Authentication in the Past

Up until thirty or forty years ago, the methods for detecting a forged artwork relied on the expertise of art historians. People could study the brush strokes used in a painting and compare them to the known works of a famous artist. Professionals also studied the small details of a painting, like eyes and fingers, and compared them with the techniques used in other paintings. Experts could also examine the craquelure, the fine cracks that oil paintings develop over many years, so they could see if the painting was too new to be a true work from an old master. When X-rays were invented, they could get a glimpse under the paint and see if the painting had been painted over an existing painting. These techniques were not always enough, and a careful forger could fool the experts. 

Modern Art Authentication 

With all the tools of modern technology at their fingertips, art historians are much more precise and certain about the origin of artworks. Here is a breakdown of the modern techniques that art authenticators use: 

Reflectance Transformation Imaging 

Reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) uses a camera, shifting light sources, and software to create a digital and interactive model of an image. This model can be used in scientifically authenticating art by focusing on the craquelure of a painting. With a digital image of the craquelure available, professionals can easily pick out attempts at faking the distinct craquelure. 

Raman Spectroscopy 

Raman spectroscopy uses infrared lasers to see under the surface of a painting, and it can be used to analyze individual pigments in a painting. The pigments used can tell a professional when the painting was painted. Raman spectroscopy can also give insights into how old the pigments are judging by how much they have degraded. 

Mass Spectrometer

A mass spectrometer is a tool used to measure the chemical composition of an object and is used in artwork authentication to determine exactly what a painting is composed of. This makes placing an artwork in a time period and linking it to an artist easy. 

UV Light

UV light waves are invisible to the human eye, but a UV light can show thin varnishes on paintings that would be undetectable otherwise. Older paintings are more fluorescent under UV lights than newer ones because of the varnishes used, and this can help an expert spot a fake masterpiece.

Contact a scientific authentication service like Art Discovery to learn more.